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True Identity

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. – Gandhi

Is our true identity in how we fall down or how we stand back up?

Many of us have bought into a devastating lie about the realities of being human. Somewhere along the way, we decided that we needed to secure approval from the people around us. We must get an A+ on our spelling test. We may never be caught in a lie. Only the things that everyone likes are acceptable as interests.

This is a lie. The human condition means to live on a playground for mistakes, fumbles, and mishaps that eventually shape us into the person we desire to be. Instead of judging ourselves, we should be able to simply observe ourselves, turning toward our actions in curiosity rather than self-deprecation.

This creates necessary space internally: when we stop punishing ourselves (most likely missing out on many important learning moments), we can recognize our unique and interesting behavior and personality.

Observation instead of judgment provides a safe environment for us to learn why we do the things we do, and to cultivate compassion for ourselves. After all, many “huge mistakes” were simply the best we could have done at the time.

Personally, my tendency has been to entertain myself with mistakes I’ve made. After a lot of time, a good dose of self-awareness, and a great deal of clarity, I now look from the other side of this belief. I no longer see only mistakes pointing to weakness. I focus on how each situation teaches me a greater capacity to love myself — even the human, messy parts.

Most surprisingly (and fantastic!) is that the more “perfect” I thought I had become, the less relatable I actually was. I disconnected from others and from myself. Only when I began to take responsibility, which I interpret as “respond-able,” could I exhibit self-compassion and a greater measure of compassion for others. This recognition of my imperfect humanity and a shift in my response to it led me to deeper friendships and a propensity for self-love.

The compassion I developed during this mental shift gave me a heart for forgiveness as well. When other imperfect humans are on the “fall side” of a situation, I no longer feel a need to punish others for their wrongdoings. I can recognize that this behavior pattern is a belief many of us struggle with. Perhaps it was a predisposition passed down from our parents, or maybe it stems from a societal precedent to penalize social criminals, rather than rehabilitate them toward the understanding that they are defined by more than their bad decisions.

Sometimes, our biggest fear is that others will be as cruel to us as we have been to ourselves. We fear they will catch us in our imperfections and treat us with cruelty. We may as well walk around with a sign on our backs saying, “I’m imperfect, shoot me!” The irony of this is that those who shame us for our weaknesses are the same people that do not tolerate the imperfection in themselves, and often suffer greatly when they fall short of an ideal that does not exist.

Sometimes showing up for ourselves can be a great start. Acknowledging what we did, so that we can really learn from it, only strengthens us. Then, we look more like the person we truly are: the one that learns and grows and trips and stumbles and then gets up and dusts off to keep walking forward.

Simply put, you will make mistakes. Wouldn’t it be better to develop a language of forgiveness, compassion, and acceptance to pave the way for the bumpy road ahead?

Fortune cookies photo available from Shutterstock

True Identity

Maya Shlanger, PsyD

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APA Reference
Shlanger, M. (2018). True Identity. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 25 Jun 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.